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SNOW v. VILLAGE OF CHATHAM

January 21, 2000

DANIEL SNOW, PLAINTIFF,
V.
VILLAGE OF CHATHAM; MICHAEL MCDOWELL, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A POLICE OFFICER OF THE VILLAGE OF CHATHAM POLICE DEPARTMENT; JUANITA O'ROURKE; KEVIN P. O'ROURKE; AND KEVIN J. BOEHME, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHIEF OF POLICE OF THE VILLAGE OF CHATHAM POLICE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS, JUANITA O'ROURKE AND KEVIN P. O'ROURKE, COUNTERCLAIMANTS, V. VILLAGE OF CHATHAM AND MICHAEL MCDOWELL, CROSS-DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kahn, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM — DECISION AND ORDER

I. BACKGROUND

In June 1996, Dennis Snow, Plaintiffs brother, leased an apartment located at 2 Houseman Ave. in the Village of Chatham, New York, that defendant Juanita O'Rourke owned. At some date prior to October 5, 1996, Plaintiff occupied that apartment. Plaintiff contends that he paid rent and O'Rourke accepted it, thereby consenting to his tenancy, and, moreover, that Mrs. O'Rourke expressly informed his father that Plaintiffs occupancy was acceptable.

On October 3, 1996, defendant Juanita O'Rourke's husband, defendant Kevin O'Rourke, contacted the Village of Chatham police to complain that the door to the apartment had been kicked in and that the unit was wrongfully occupied. The police advised Mr. O'Rourke that only his wife, as the sole owner of the premises, could file a complaint, which was necessary for them to take proper action. The following morning, the O'Rourkes completed and signed supporting depositions, which affirmed that the unit had been wrongfully occupied and identified Plaintiff as the likely occupant. In his affidavit, Mr. O'Rourke again stated that the unit's door had been kicked in. Police Chief Boehme informed the O'Rourkes that his department would undertake an investigation and update them on its progress.

Mr. O'Rourke visited the premises the next day, October 5, 1996, and reported to the police that the despite the fact that the lockset was visibly broken, the door had been secured from inside. O'Rourke stated that he had heard someone inside the apartment, knocked, and met with no response. Officer McDowell then accompanied Mr. O'Rourke back to the apartment, and has attested that although they both clearly heard sounds emanating from within, no one answered their repeated knocking. The sounds of rapid toilet flushing then began. O'Rourke informed the officer that whoever was within had no right whatsoever to be present. McDowell then, according to the supporting affidavits, announced his identity as a police officer and demanded that the door be opened. The door opened, Plaintiff appeared, and O'Rourke requested that McDowell arrest Plaintiff. McDowell did so, Mirandized Plaintiff, and in the course of a brief visual inspection located drug paraphernalia and marijuana. McDowell charged Plaintiff with second degree burglary, second degree criminal use of drug paraphernalia, and unlawful possession. According to Plaintiff, all charges were dismissed. (There is some dispute as to whether the Village court where the charges were lodged had the power to dismiss given its limited subject matter jurisdiction.)

Plaintiff maintains that the O'Rourkes were intent on evicting a tenant and fomented a conspiracy with the Chatham police, who, "instead of acting competently and reasonably, without any investigation, blindly obeyed the O'Rourkes and arrested Plaintiff." Plaintiffs Memorandum of Law in Opposition to the Village Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment filed November 9, 1998 ("Plaintiffs Mem. II"), 4. Plaintiff ascribes police participation in the conspiracy to either Mrs. O'Rourke's attendance of political events at which Chief Boehme was also present, and/or the fact that Mr. O'Rourke grew up in the same town and attended the same schools. See id.

II. ANALYSIS

The standard is well-established. Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c). A material fact is genuinely disputed only if, based on that fact, a reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty, Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). On a motion for summary judgment, all evidence must be viewed and all inferences must be drawn in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. City of Yonkers v. Otis Elevator Co., 844 F.2d 42, 45 (2d Cir. 1988).

The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion" and identifying the matter "it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Upon the movant's satisfying that burden, the onus then shifts to the non-moving party to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505. The non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). "but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial." First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288, 88 S.Ct. 1575, 20 L.Ed.2d 569 (1968). Summary judgment is usually unwarranted when the defendant's state of mind is at issue. Clements v. Nassau County, 835 F.2d 1000, 1005 (2d Cir. 1987). In order to raise a fact issue regarding state of mind, however, there must be solid circumstantial evidence to prove plaintiffs case. Id. "Mere conclusory allegations, speculation or conjecture will not avail a party resisting summary judgment." Cifarelli v. Village of Babylon, 93 F.3d 47, 51 (2d Cir. 1996).

A. Village Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

I. Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment Claims

Plaintiff asserted these claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1988. Section 1983 does not create substantive rights, but rather provides a vehicle through which federal rights elsewhere conferred may be vindicated. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271, 114 S.Ct. 807, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994) (citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144, n. 3, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979)). To maintain a successful section 1983 action, "[t]he conduct complained of must have been committed by a person acting under color of state law and must have deprived a person of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Pitchell v. ...


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